A REWARDING JOURNEY
We are the exception to bad news stories which catch people’s attention. We stayed to fight our fire. We beat it at the front but an unseen ember ignited an inferno at the back. Another ember destroyed our exit gear and boat fuel down at the river, ready for an escape. We watched our house burn to the ground. We believe this was fortunate. Acceptance was the only option.
Better luck, and hope, began with the miraculous survival of our dog. Together we spent twelve hours on the fire ground protected only by our RFS uniforms, retained long after our thirteen years’ service. We made the way down to the Clyde but we could not escape without fuel or oars. I had requested rescue three times but police resources were thin.
We had no idea of the disasters afflicting the local townships. We were disappointed that there was no RFS help. This fire arrived around 4am. It was dark and smoky. No aircraft could fly. The local fire truck stayed in its shed. The greatest good of the greatest number must be the guide, so forest dwellers like us had to fend for ourselves. Our 85 year-old house had survived many fires. This time we were as protected as possible, but it was not enough.
Around 4pm we were rescued by a neighbour who feared we had perished. When we reached Bateman’s Bay we were welcomed into an oyster wharf, where good luck really began.
The public-spirited lady who collected us from the wharf asked our intentions. We needed somewhere quiet, which she offered at her family-owned resort. We had our own space with a small yard for Spottie. Those wonderful people clothed and fed us and by the miracle of a generator we enjoyed a warm shower, in a town without power. Without her help we would have gone to the evacuation centre which was all noise and flurry.
After three attempts, our son reached the Bay, with everything we needed except shoes. The trip back to Sydney was a marathon, due to fire closed roads. Our first offer of a house came from a fellow traveller. It was the first of five and set the pattern for the most immense generosity from even perfect strangers. We contacted all aid agencies from our first week in Sydney and they have provided a significant amount of money and goods. We got full insurance, fast and were able to buy an excellent house with just one neighbour, next to a park. Collecting pre-loved furniture was a rewarding adventure. Our luck continued with the advantageous sale of our bush property to folk who will love it as we did.
The most heartening feature of the journey has been the continuing help, support and advice from family and friends. They kept us going when we faltered. The most valuable advice was that we attend a talk by a trauma psychologist. He made us see that our reactions were not to be feared.